Stand When You Can and Only Sit If You Must

There’s an attitude in medicine drawn from a famous Winston Churchill quote about never standing when one can sit and never sitting when one can lay. With insane work hours and long call shifts, this makes good sense. Much like “smoke em if you got em,” closing your eyes when you can is just a way of life.

However, there’s a study making its way through popular culture this week that attempts to quantify the effects of sitting (which most of us do way too much of) and refutes most of this “doctor logic” of how to survive shifts. The byline on Runner’s World concludes “Each hour of sitting erases 8% from the health benefit of an hour of running.” It’s important to note that in this case, the health benefits are beyond just weight maintenance/loss and include other more general markers of health. It’s also important to realize that the assessment essentially excluded planned exercise (your morning run, for example) and assessed what you do for the other 23 hours of your day. That is, even if you run for an hour in the morning, sitting at your desk for the next 10 hours makes you pretty darn sedentary despite how you started your day.

Every time I’ve had an office job, I’ve deal with a host of sitting related aches and pains. Over the past year, I’ve had to sit for more hours in a row than at almost any time in my life. There are days when I swear that my butt is the shape of my chair in the MedEd building. My steps towards a more active life outside of running include:

  1. Standing during less intense lectures (thanks for flexible faculty and standing desks provided by the medical school)
  2. Walking a 5 minute loop or walking 3 sets of “Courtyard” stairs between lectures
  3. Conscientiously stretching muscle groups that shorten up with sitting
    1. Hip Flexors (Forward Lunge Stretch or Ankle Grab)
    2. Calf Muscles (Hanging feet off stairs)
    3. Quadratus Lumborum and Hamstrings (Lower Back Swing: hang your torso over and aim to tough your toes with arms extended then slowly swing side to side, twisting lightly. You should feel tension release from the muscles deep to your hips or under your “love handles”)

What do you do to combat our tendency towards sedentary lives outside of running? Does your workplace or school support ways to fit in more activity during the day?

8 thoughts on “Stand When You Can and Only Sit If You Must

  1. foxrunsfast

    Right now I have two small children (ages 2 & 4) so I’m not sitting very often! I’m interested to see how that changes as they grow up and eventually go to school. I do some consulting work from my home and I’ll be picking up more of that when I can so I know I’ll need to do something to make sure I don’t get stuck sitting for hours! 🙂 Interesting article!!

    1. runnerunderpressure

      I found that I just had to be conscious about standing up; I don’t like when my lower back hurts and my hamstrings are two inches long, but sometimes I just get so caught up in studying that I don’t realize how much time has passed.

    1. runnerunderpressure

      And I think this is exactly where the “sit if you can” mentality comes from in medicine. When I was on outpatient internal this spring, I found it hard to grab a sip of water between patients, let alone sit down. If I was sitting down, it was to sign something that I didn’t want my pen to punch through! Thanks for commenting.

  2. runteamwebb

    Funny to read this because I do agree getting up and moving is good. However – part of my last blog encourages runners (in the phase of intense training) -to be lazy between their workouts and sit when at all possible. My husband is my example on this. However this is coming from the professional athlete prospective – he works out typically a minimum of 3 hours a day.

    1. runnerunderpressure

      It’s very different between professional athletes and regular people, isn’t it? Even when I’m doing peak mileage and intensity, I try to expend as little energy as possible during other activities and up my naptime/downtime hours.


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